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Crazy Train

June 19, 2009

Iowa City is making a pitch for enormous federal subsidies for train service to Chicago, reports Rado Iowa. They quote Rebecca Neades of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce:

She says they believe about 187,000 people would ride the train every year. Neads says the train is a very appealing option. "It's a quick turnaround. It's only a five hour ride. The cost is very inexpensive, they're keeping it down at around 42 dollars and it's a very safe, economical, and environmentally friendly way to travel," Neads says.

She says the federal government could pay most of the more than fifty million dollar cost for the route because the midwest is largely underserved, and Illinois and Iowa are working together on the project.

There is so much wrong with this.

- Ridership of 187,000 assumes that everyone in Iowa City takes the trip three times a year, or that everybody in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, the two towns in the area, rides once a year. It assumes over 500 riders a day, 365 days a year, between Iowa City and Chicago. That's a pipe dream. The two routes serving Iowa now had Iowa boardings at six stations totaling 64,260 in 2008.

- You can make the trip in four hours in a car and leave any time of the day you want, carrying as much stuff as you can fit in the trunk. On a train you can only leave once or twice a day, and only when Amtrak gets around to leaving. You can only pack only as much stuff as you can carry. And even if they are on time, it takes longer than driving.

- If Amtrak's own projections of costs for a route to Dubuque apply, the actual costs of the route will be three times the "economical" $42 ticket price.

But running empty trains is apparently "green," so this could happen in this age of easy federal money.

You can call it "Ozzy Osbourne environmentalism."

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